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Prince William budget to include $1 million for class size reduction

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will approve the final budget and tax rate tomorrow, April 21, at their regularly scheduled meeting.

The approved budget will now include $1 million allocated specifically for reducing class sizes in Prince William County Public Schools.

As the budget period for the Prince William County Board of Supervisors comes to a close, Supervisors Candland and Lawson took the opportunity to speak on their own budget draft with a 2.5% tax increase. In March, the board announced their advertised ceiling tax rate increase of 3.88%, and the difference between the 2.5% and the 3.88% is about $14.6 million.

Budget draft to address school overcrowding

Lawson and Candland stated their draft of the 2016 budget is focused on a plan to address overcrowding in county public schools.

The budget draft would invest county funds into reducing class sizes over the next five years, drawing funding from the Recordation Tax revenue. Under the original proposal given by Candland and Lawson, the board would invest $30 million over the 5-year period, starting with $2 million in 2016. The board decided to halve this amount – giving $1 million – and requiring the school board to match the funds.

Virginia charges a tax on the recordation of deeds, deeds of trust, mortgages, leases, and contracts, which provide the funding source Candland referenced. Currently, the Recordation Tax in the county’s budget goes toward paying for transportation projects and other small line items in the budget, stated a release.

The two Supervisors stated in a release that this idea came from a citizen’s budget committee, and that the money for transportation projects currently funded by the Recordation Tax could instead be funded by the general fund.

“One of our highest priorities has to be to provide the best education we can for our kids. Having the highest-class sizes in the Commonwealth prevents us from reaching that goal, and it has become a crisis that we have to solve now. The time has come that we must put excuses behind us and get serious about addressing this issue. Because of the flaws in the current Revenue Sharing Agreement which funds education, we have dug ourselves into a hole that will take bold actions to overcome. Budgets are about priorities, and it is time we prioritize reducing the large class sizes that are putting our kids at a huge disadvantage,” said Supervisor Candland in a release.

How Candland and Lawson plan to lower tax rate

In order to take the budget’s advertised tax increase of 3.88% and bring it down to 2.5%, Candland stated that they would need to make about $14.6 million in cuts.

Among the cuts made, Candland and Lawson’s draft including reducing the amount of open county jobs that have gone unfilled, about $3 million of the county’s fire levy, the Hylton Performing Art Center’s subsidy for $150,000 and a golf course membership fee that the county has been paying to draw in business owners to the area.

“We felt it was important to do what we could to bring down the tax rate as low as we could, because of the impact on families…[Lawson and I] are not saying, ‘Pass the whole thing or nothing’. We wish they would pass all of these changes to the budget, but we understand there may be some things in [this plan] that they like, and some that they don’t. We’re willing to talk about it.”

The board still has time to go with the 2.5% tax rate increase, or stay near the 3.88% advertised tax rate.

Board of Supervisors vote for class size reduction plan

Candland and Lawson’s class size reduction program was approved in a straw vote at the Prince William County Board of Supervisors on April 16.

As part of the agreement – per Supervisor Frank Principi’s suggestion – the board approved $1 million to be given to the school board for the sole intention of reducing class sizes. This $1 million per year would not be a part of the current 57.1% revenue sharing agreement that Prince William County Public Schools has with the county. The school board would have to match this $1 million in their budget.

Candland, Lawson, Principi, Caddigan and Chairman At-Large Corey Stewart all voted in a straw vote for the class size reduction program.

While there was no adoption of the 2.5% tax rate increase plan outlined by Candland and Lawson, it was discussed during the meeting. 

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